Yesterday I happened across an article on welshgrandprix.wordpress.com that listed every driver to have tested a Williams Grand Prix car since the team’s inception in 1977, and it makes for some interesting reading!
Firstly, there’s the fact that Williams have had more drivers take the wheel of one of their cars than any other team, including Ferrari who had a 27 year headstart.
Perhaps it’s a sign of the openness of Williams – allowing people from outside the team to take their cars for a spin – or maybe it’s a sign of Sir Frank’s keenness in spotting a commercial opportunity and a bit of free press coverage. It could even be testament to the a high rate of driver turnaround (although many of the drivers on the list never actually graduated to Williams Grand Prix driver, so perhaps not).
The list – and I’m not sure how complete it is – shows that over 100 drivers have tested (taken part in a test session) for Williams since 1977. Among them are the drivers you’d expect to be there. Future full time drivers taking the wheel of a – sometimes brand new, sometimes old – Williams for the first time.
But alongside the now familiar names are a few surprises.
You might have seen photos of Indycar star Al Unser jnr’s test of the FW14 in 1991, and James Hunt’s 1989 test of the FW12C. But did you know Norbert Haug – former Mercedes Motorsport head honcho and Toto Wolff’s predecessor once took a Williams out for a spin? Or Jackie Stewart for a World of Speed TV special? Both heavily associated with Williams’ rivals.
Allard Kalff – Dutch journalist and racing driver – too got a chance to drive a Williams FW15 in 1993, as did his Eurosport co-commentator and former McLaren driver John Watson.
Mauricio Gugelmin, Eddie Cheever and Roberto Moreno are three more F1 drivers to make the list.
Future four time Formula 1 champion Sebastian Vettel is of course on there, following his 2005 test of the FW27 as a result of his success in Formula BMW – Williams’ then engine partner.
But perhaps the most surprising name on the list of people to have tested for Williams isn’t a racing driver at all, although he did make a name for himself as a result of his driving exploits! Like Damon Hill and Nico Rosberg he has a famous surname, and an (albeit tenuous!) link to Williams.
Yes, it’s none other than Mark Thatcher – son of Britain’s most divisive Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (whose portrait Sir Frank is know to have hanging in his office).
Thatcher jnr’s most remarkable achievement seems to have been entering the 1982 Paris-Dakar Rally and getting lost somewhere along the way, sparking an international incident. (Oh, and the small matter of leading an attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea, but we’ll skip over that.)
Quite what he was doing behind the wheel of a Williams Grand Prix car is anyone’s guess, although you get the impression Sir Frank must have been doing a favour for Maggie, getting the hopeless wastrel out of her hair for a few hours.
There is no record of his laptimes. He was not offered a full time drive.